Guyana on Thursday joined with the rest of the world to observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) under the theme “building back better, toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”
In a statement to mark the day, the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD) noted that this group has always been marginalised, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown has brought greater focus on the challenges they face.
In efforts to rebuild, the council is calling for the allocation of a monthly “disability grant” to persons with disabilities as a living allowance; they are also calling for all buildings to be easily accessible by persons with disabilities.
The News Room spoke with visually impaired teacher at the Ministry of Education’s Unit for the Blind Rosemarie Ramitt, who pointed out that these measures are highlighted in the Guyana PWD Act 2010 but are not implemented.
On the point of accessibility, she noted that: “At the end of the day, when we exclude a section of our population from accessing buildings which in turn will affect how they access goods and services, then really what we’re doing is creating a disadvantage in terms of not only allowing these people to access these services but also businesses gaining in these services.”
The majority of the buildings across Guyana, including many government offices, are not equipped with ramps for persons in wheelchairs and there no provisions for visually impaired or deaf persons.
“This really has to do with enforcement of the building codes to make sure that buildings are accessible. The Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) needs to do their part in ensuring that whenever they are approving new plans or renovations [for] buildings, that the area of accessibility is covered.”
The 25-year-old teacher works with blind students to help them to function in a world where they are treated as different.
“We need to have an inclusive approach and create an environment where no individual feels as if they are different…,” Ramitt said.
The GCOPD wants the government to ensure all public schools are accessible and are governed by a relevant Special Education Needs’ policy that promotes the integration and full participation of children with disabilities and ensuring they acquire a meaningful education.
The council is also calling for the allocation of a small percentage of all public sector jobs to qualified and skilled PWDs.
Ramitt was diagnosed with Panuveitis at the age of 13. The condition, which is described as inflammation of all layers of the uvea of the eye, led to a sudden blindness which left her in a state of depression.
At the age of 16, Ramitt joined the National Commission on Disabilities and later attended the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) to be trained as a teacher so she can be guaranteed a job.
However, she pointed out that this is not the case for everyone else, who has to compete for a place in the workforce.
“For other persons who may be want to pursue a different career, then it would not be as easy,” she said.
In addition, the council wants the government to ensure that PWDs have a voice in the expenditure of the revenues from the oil and gas sector.